x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

David Moyes proves he can take risks at Manchester United

David Moyes' decision to select 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj against Sunderland on Saturday was not only bold, but looks to signify a shift from the conservatism that characterised his time at Everton.

Adnan Januzaj's performance could be a shot in the arm for Manchester United and manager David Moyes. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Adnan Januzaj's performance could be a shot in the arm for Manchester United and manager David Moyes. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Around Goodison Park, a question has been posed time and again already this season: would Ross Barkley, the revelation of Everton’s campaign, even be starting if David Moyes was still in charge?

The answer was assumed to be “no”; Moyes was too conservative, too reliant on the tried and trusted, to put his faith in a teenager, let alone build a team around him, as his bolder successor Roberto Martinez has.

After all, while Moyes did pick Barkley away at Arsenal last season, it was one of only four league starts the Scot granted him.

But such conversations took place before Saturday, before Moyes made the most surprising selection of his reign at Manchester United and saw it pay off handsomely.

Adnan Januzaj, The 18-year-old Belgian was fast-tracked into the United starting XI and delivered two goals on his full debut.

Classily as both goals were scored, it mattered more when they were scored: a fourth defeat in seven league games beckoned before his intervention. It may prove the start of a great career or the turning point in Moyes’s troubled time at Old Trafford.

Yet even if it is false dawn in both respects, it still has a significance.

It was a day when Moyes channelled the spirit of his predecessor. Whether selling Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes in 1995 to clear the path to the first team for Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Paul Scholes or sending the unknown Federico Macheda on against Aston Villa to change the course of the title race in 2009, Sir Alex Ferguson was unafraid to trust younger players.

Ferguson was ready to gamble, too, his attacking instincts meaning he was willing to take the positive, and risky, option.

It was a reason why, despite their shared Scottish roots and long-term commitment to clubs, much separated the doyen and his hand-picked replacement.

The reality is that, superbly as Moyes did at Everton, the demands of the United job are completely different: a sense of adventure is integral to United’s identity, as is a faith in youth.

They were as important to Sir Matt Busby as to Ferguson, the two men who shaped the character of the club.

Yet Moyes’s Everton sides were dominated by a cadre of reliable senior professionals, just as a determination not to lose influenced some of his more cautious choices.

And at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, there were far safer options than a teenager whose defensive deficiencies, arguably, contributed to the previous week’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion.

The size of United’s squad – another difference from Everton – means there are always alternatives. It would have been understandable if Moyes had selected Danny Welbeck, a scorer in Donetsk three days earlier, or Shinji Kagawa, a cause celebre among those who are bemused by his marginalisation.

There are days when the 39-year-old player-coach Ryan Giggs is not merely the most celebrated winger on United’s books, but also the best, and there were grounds to pick him. There were rather fewer to opt for Ashley Young, but the initial impression was that Moyes appreciated the Englishman.

Instead, he overlooked them all for Januzaj.

That it was only against Sunderland, a side with a solitary point from the first seven games, is irrelevant. United’s early stumbles have rendered every game more important; this was not the sort of occasion when Ferguson could rotate in carefree fashion.

And given the recent record of United’s squad players, Januzaj’s two goals are particularly impressive. Too many have cruised along in the slipstream of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie; too few have changed games themselves.

That the youngest of them all did is an indictment of the others. If it prompts a change in the pecking order of the many wingers, Januzaj’s double will have an impact that stretches beyond the procurement of three points.

If it indicates a shift in Moyes’s thinking, from pragmatist to idealist, it will be still more pertinent.

Because while Everton provided realism, United, with their tradition of improbable triumphs, are expected to offer escapism. The challenge for them is to deliver the unlikely. And if only for one afternoon, the combination of new manager and new player did just that.